More than 340 pipe organ enthusiasts and music professionals attended the Organ Historical Society’s (OHS) 59th annual convention, held in Syracuse Aug. 11-14. The goal of the organization, which began in 1956, is to preserve and study the American pipe organ and its music. Members who join the OHS have a desire to fulfill the organization’s mission, which is “to promote musical and historical interest in American organ building through collection, preservation and publication of historical information, recordings and public concerts.”
The OHS is based in Richmond, Va., and holds its national convention each summer. The society offers a financial award, the Biggs fellowship, which covers the cost of attending the society’s annual convention for several outstanding applicants who are studying or have a strong interest in the American pipe organ. The fellowship was named in honor of E. Power Biggs, a strong supporter of the classical pipe organ, who encouraged renewed interest in the revival of American organ building and the music of the organ in the mid-20th century.
“The convention visits a different location every year to highlight organs of historical significance from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries,” explained Ryan J. Boyle, vice president of Kerner & Merchant Pipe Organ Builders of East Syracuse and 2014 Organ Historical Society convention chair. “Our conventions generally tend to be held in the Northeast since that is where the most historical pipe organs are located.”
Boyle petitioned three years ago for this year’s convention to be held in Syracuse, an occurrence that hasn’t happened since 1962. Boyle, with the support and assistance of the 2014 Syracuse convention committee members, Will Headlee, Greg Keefe, Susan Stinson and Jean Radice, designed the details of the four-day event, planned lectures, meetings, dinners and walking tours and reviewed which organs attendees would visit and enjoy. Organ selection was based on a variety of factors including historical value of the organ; age of the organ; importance of the builder; and the period of the builder’s career when the instrument was constructed. Concerts were scheduled at several venues throughout Syracuse and the surrounding community.
OHS members from across the country, and as far away as Canada and Germany, traveled to Syracuse for the convention headquartered at the Genesee Grande Hotel. Upon arrival, attendees enjoyed tours of local wineries and a boat ride on Cayuga Lake before the convention officially began. Throughout the convention, attendees were shuttled by bus to various locations to hear over 30 pipe organ concerts, including ones held at St. Cecilia’s Church in Solvay, St. Mary’s Church in Auburn, Immaculate Conception Cathedral and St. Anthony of Padua Church in Syracuse.
On Aug. 12, attendees toured St. Anthony of Padua and listened to Father Robert D. Chryst give the historical background of the church before enjoying a pipe organ concert featuring organist Silviya Mateva, a Biggs fellow and music theory graduate assistant at the University of Oklahoma, as well as a winner of numerous international and national organ competitions. Mateva played several selections on the church’s Casavant Frères Ltèe organ, Op. 2057, built in 1951, to a church filled with OHS members. The program included the hymn “Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven,” which gave OHS attendees an opportunity to sing accompanied by Mateva’s prolific organ skills.
Roger Meers, from Seattle, Wash., an OHS member for 30 years, was thrilled to be at the convention and to hear the organ at St. Anthony’s of Padua Church. “I used to be in the [organ] business but now I just love to listen to organs the same way other people love to play golf. Pipe organs speak to me,” he said.
The concerts held during the day were open only to convention attendees, but evening concerts were open to the public at a cost of $30 per ticket. “The convention is our organization’s largest fundraiser every year,” explained Boyle. “Funds raised by the convention go primarily to preserving the OHS archives, which holds a sizable account of historical records of many major organ builders throughout U.S. history.”
Priscilla Weaver, a Biggs fellowship award winner, is completing her second year of doctoral studies in organ performance at Indiana University and has been part of the OHS for three years. Weaver, a strong advocate for the preservation of American pipe organs around the country, has a master of sacred music degree from the University of Notre Dame and has received numerous awards for performancing organ and sacred music. “The conference has been a great way to support the maintenance of these historic instruments,” she said.
The convention also drew members who came simply to enjoy the music. Joan and Jim Duff from Modesto, Calif., have been OHS members for many years and attended several past OHS conventions.
“I am a huge organ buff and am very interested in the instrument, the builders, the players and the music,” stated Jim Duff. “It’s fun to travel all the highways and byways of the organ.”
Joan Duff is an organist at her local church in Modesto and believes that each organ has its own personality. “It’s been wonderful to hear all the different organ pieces and all the different sounds. Organs are a lot like people; they are all different and unique,” she said.
Collin Boothby from Seattle, a sophomore studying the pipe organ at Texas Christian University and another Biggs fellowship award winner, enjoyed his first time attending an OHS convention. “It’s been great to meet so many people with the same interests that I have and who love this kind of music,” stated Boothby.
After a full four-day schedule of sightseeing around Syracuse, meeting fellow organ enthusiasts, listening to lectures and attending meetings and concerts, OHS attendees made their way back to their respective homes with musical memories of OHS 2014 in Syracuse.
“I suggested Syracuse as this year’s convention venue to bring attention to the many historical and musical treasures we have here and garner more interest in church music,” explained Boyle. “I am very thankful to the Diocese of Syracuse for being so cooperative and working with us. Syracuse was a great choice for this year’s event. I am so proud of this city.”
For more information about OHS and its annual convention, contact the Organ Historical Society, P.O. Box 26811, Richmond, Va., 23261, (804) 353-9226 or visit www.organsociety.org.
Listen to the performance at St. Anthony’s with Syracuse Catholic Television at www.youtube.com/user/syrdio